At least 48 workers have been fired by BHP over sexual assaults and harassment at the workplace in Western Australia mining camps since 2019, the mining giant said.
Intense scrutiny over the treatment of women at their isolated sites is being faced by the richest mining companies in Australia. Inquiries by the state governments into sexual harassment at mining locations have been initiated by recent court cases.
While acknowledging the issues, a number of mining companies have also promised to ring in changes.
While reporting such allegations, other miners, including Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals, have not provided any information about whether they had fired any workers over such allegations.
Iron ore and other minerals are mined by the companies from large mines in the remote Pilbara region. The companies flies thousands of workers in each season and arranges for teir living in village camp-style accommodation.
The companies have allowed development of a hard-drinking, male-dominated culture at the work sites for years, say critics.
BHP recognized that sexual harassment in its camps was a problem, during the inquiry,
BHP is Australia’s largest mining company.
Reports of 18 incidents of sexual assault and 73 of sexual harassment among its 13,500-strong workforce had been received by the company between 2019-2021. All the cases were reported to the police, the company said.
Allegations of two rape incidents, one attempted rape, and three cases of forced kissing or groping had been substantiated in its internal investigations, the mining company said. It added that it is still investigating three other sexual assault allegations.
The company added that unwanted touching and advances, and inappropriate texts and pictures from colleagues had to be endured by female colleagues.
“We are deeply sorry and apologise unreservedly to those who have experienced, or continue to experience, any form of sexual harassment in our workplaces,” said BHP in its submission.
It said that it is encouraging employees to report other incidents, if any, as well.
A$300m ($214m) has already been invested by the company since 2019 to make thee camp sites safer, BHP said, but added: “we must and will do more”.
Around-the-clock security, better lighting, more CCTV cameras and putting chains on room doors were among the more recent security improvement measures implemented by the company.
The company has also capped intake of four alcoholic drinks a day for each worker while banning drinking after 22:00.
Similar improvements are also being done by Fortescue Metals and Rio, the companies said. The companies are also conducting training programmes for employees on the issue of safety and security at the workplace. .
In a report in 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission noted that harassment in the past five years had ben experienced by 74 per cent of the women employed in Australia’s mining industry compared to only 39 per cent women reporting such experiences in the rest of the industries. In terms of the prevalence of harassment, and number of harassers, the mining industry outranked other industries, the report had also found.
“Young girls come to site… and she’s just seen as meat [by male workers]”, a female former worker had reportedly told the ABC.
The proportion of females in its workforce had been increased to 29 per cent and to 25 per cent of its senior management positions, BHP said.
(Adapted from BBC.com)